The Big Ten had four 1,000-yard receivers in 2011, all of whom are graduating.
In fact, the league loses its top five receivers -- Iowa's Marvin McNutt, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham, Northwestern's Jeremy Ebert and Wisconsin's Nick Toon -- and returns just two of its top-10 pass catchers (Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and Iowa's Keenan Davis). But the departures don't necessarily mean the Big Ten will be scrambling for elite wideouts in 2011.
Consider: of the league's top-10 receivers last fall, only four of them -- Ebert, McNutt, Penn State's Derek Moye and Minnesota's Da'Jon McKnight -- ranked in the top 10 the previous season. So there are receivers who take their game to the next level every season. Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis might have been the best example this past fall, as he caught 35 more passes and recorded 644 more receiving yards than he had in 2010.
Who will break out in 2012? Again, we're talking wide receivers here, not tight ends, of which there are several talented ones in the Big Ten.
Colleague KC Joyner thinks the Hawkeyes' Davis will take the next step. Davis, pegged to be Iowa's No. 1 wideout following McNutt's departure, is among the players Joyner lists in a recent piece on breakout receivers.
An optimist would note that McNutt really wasn't a dominant wideout (his 9.0 YPA was only slightly higher than Davis'), that [Ken] O'Keefe often called, as ESPN.com Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett noted, a "buttoned-down style of play" and that Iowa has a potential Big Ten first-team quarterback in James Vandenberg.
I recently mentioned Davis as one of the Hawkeyes who needs a big offseason to take the next step this fall.
Who are some other potential breakout receivers in the Big Ten?
Penn State's Justin Brown: Quarterback is Penn State's top offseason priority, but the Lions also need more from the receiver position. Moye's departure puts Brown in position to be the team's No. 1 target in the passing game. Brown averaged 14.8 yards per catch in 2011 and has the size to beat defensive backs for the ball.
Michigan's Roy Roundtree: Roundtree might not qualify as a breakout player as he already has turned in a productive season (72 receptions, 935 receiving yards, 7 TDs in 2010). But after a significant production drop-off last year, Roundtree needs to elevate his play for a Michigan offense looking for a No. 1 wide receiver.
Purdue's Antavian Edison: We've seen flashes from Edison in his first two seasons, both as a rusher and as a receiver. He clearly has the ability to take another step after recording 44 receptions for 584 yards and three touchdowns last fall. While Purdue likes to get a lot of players touches on offense, it needs a No. 1 receiver after Justin Siller's departure and Edison has a great opportunity to be that guy.
Michigan State's DeAnthony Arnett: Arnett's placement comes with a caveat, as he must attain approval from the NCAA to avoid sitting out a season. But if the Tennessee transfer can play this fall, look out. Michigan State loses its top three receivers and its top tight end from 2011 and needs targets for new quarterback Andrew Maxwell. Arnett had 24 receptions for 242 yards as a freshman at Tennessee and could take a big step forward with the Spartans.
Nebraska's Kenny Bell: Bell showed a lot of promise as a true freshman, averaging 14.4 yards per reception with three touchdowns. He had three or more receptions in five of the eight Big Ten games and added three catches and a touchdown against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. The Huskers need a lot more from their receivers in 2012, and Bell could move into a featured role.
Indiana's Kofi Hughes: I really liked Hughes after watching him last spring, but like many, I assumed Damarlo Belcher would be the team's No. 1 wide receiver and not wash out midseason. Hughes ended up leading Indiana with 36 receptions for 536 receiving yards. He's still relatively new to the position and could take a big step forward in Year 2 of the Kevin Wilson era, as pass-friendly offensive coordinator Seth Littrell arrives.